Le Monde Diplomatique contains a very interesting article (larded with the customary anti-democratic spin) on socio-religious change in Egypt. In it Patrick Haenni and Husam Tammam identify four common attributes of Cairo’s photogenic prophets of personal salvation:
Almost all are the product of secular education and their religious knowledge is that of the dilettante; they are young and, coming from privileged backgrounds, have good social networks; they are engaged in syncretic steps between various cultural models and the Islamic reference frame, which loses its centrality; finally, they affirm a double rupture, with official Islam on the one hand, and with political Islam on the other.
All well and good, but television programmes on their own aren’t going to remove the institutional constraints that prevent the huge majority of the population from even acquiring a television, let alone realising the kind of dream spun by these rich kids. Guatemala has some of Latin America’s most extravagant televangelists, but decades of US involvement have failed to alter its basic nature: a state custom-designed to enable a small and closely-knit mafia to impose miserable and overpriced products on people living in abject and apparently hopeless poverty.
In this context, it was good to hear Bush in his November 6th speech acknowledge the crucial role of Egypt in modernising the Middle East and suggest that the US commitment needs to be serious and long-term. I’m already anticipating keenly his hosting what will be one of the most bizarre summits of this century, at which Jim Bakker and Khalid Al-Guindy will debate one of the latter’s slogans: “Riches are a present from heaven”. Or will Muslim evangelists stay clear of secretaries and dog kennels with airco?
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